Joint manufacturers paying doctors again

Well, knock me over with a feather. It seems that doctors are back to being paid as consultants for artificial hip and knee manufacturers after a federal criminal investigation last year brought such arrangements to a temporary halt. What's more, it looks like the next round of deals could be as lucrative--if not more--as ones that got the devicemakers into trouble in the first place.

Last year's investigation looked at four joint manufacturers: Biomet, DePuy Orthopedics, Smith & Nephew and Zimmer Holdings. At the time, a criminal investigation concluded that industry leader Zimmer Holdings and three rivals paid more than $800 million to 6,500 doctors, hospitals and medical associations between 2002 and 2006. To close the investigation, the companies agreed to pay a $311 million settlement and make their consulting arrangements public. They also agreed to federal monitoring.

The thing is, critics say, the fact that the consulting arrangements are now public isn't much of a help. Though the deals may be public, patients still have little way of knowing how much any one deal affected which hip or knee device the doctor uses. What's more, they note, these firms are still pouring millions into training and education programs, travel and fees compensating them to train each other. Some argue that these arrangements are ethically questionable, at best.

To learn more about the payments:
-read this Chicago Tribune piece